Protecting tenants from the silent killer

Simon Jones from Kidde Safety Europe explains the role of carbon monoxide alarms in ensuring a robust life safety approach – and why it is so important that the models chosen meet the requirements of EN 50291

Last year, the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 were extended to include new obligations for registered providers of social housing regarding carbon monoxide safety. As such, the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (Amendment) Regulations 2022 came into effect on 1 October 2022, which require all landlords, including the previously exempt housing associations and local authority landlords, to ensure that a carbon monoxide alarm is installed in any room used as living accommodation that contains a combustible appliance – such as a gas boiler, water heater, wood stove, or fire (gas cookers are not included).

The dangers of carbon monoxide

Known as the silent killer, carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, toxic gas that is produced when fuels such as gas, oil, charcoal, coal and wood do not burn completely – a common result of old, poorly maintained or incorrectly installed household appliances. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, dizziness, weakness, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. With higher exposure or when levels increase, it can cause seizures, loss of consciousness, paralysis and death.

The government identifies people with diseases that affect the delivery of oxygen to the heart or brain, such as those with coronary heart disease, angina, asthma or anaemia as being particularly at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning, as the amount of oxygen being carried to the heart or brain is further reduced by carbon monoxide. 

With the cost-of-living crisis and surging energy prices, it is expected that households on lower incomes could also be at increased risk, as they look to find alternative ways of heating their homes which may expose them to CO, toxic fumes and fire incidents. In fact, the National Fire Chiefs’ Council home safety committee has formed a cost-of-living crisis working group to help address this issue. 

The only way to alert occupants to the presence of carbon monoxide is the correct installation of a working CO alarm that meets the required European Standard. This will provide an early warning in the event that CO is detected, before the levels become dangerous and enabling householders to take action before experiencing any symptoms of CO poisoning and having unknowingly been inhaling toxic gas over time.

The current legislation

Under the legislation in England, landlords and housing providers are obligated to ensure that carbon monoxide alarms are correctly cited and in working order. Any alarms that are reported as faulty or not working must be repaired or replaced as soon as is reasonably practical. Any provider found to be in breach of the regulations can be fined up to £5,000.

As we approach the anniversary of the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (Amendment) Regulations 2022 coming into effect, landlords and housing managers will undoubtedly be familiar with, and complying with, the legislation. However, it is imperative that landlords and managers take a proactive approach in regularly testing alarms to make sure they are in working order, as well as ensure that any newly acquired portfolios of tenanted stock are swiftly assessed for compliance and appropriate action taken quickly where necessary. It is also important to check the manufacturer’s quoted lifetime for the alarm and replace it no later than recommended, to ensure continued protection.

Under the regulations, any carbon monoxide alarm, whether already installed or one that needs replacing, should adhere to the European EN 50291-1:2018 Standard. To comply, CO alarms must feature an ‘End-of-Life’ indicator that provides the occupant with a warning when the sensor is reaching the end of its service life. At this point, the entire CO alarm must be replaced. This warning must consist of a warning sound (usually a chirping noise) and a flashing LED to provide both audible and visual alerts. Specifically, the audible sound output must offer 85dB(A) at 3 metres. There are Carbon Monoxide Alarms on the market which use an electrochemical CO sensor, providing continuous monitoring of CO levels and tested for a 10-year lifespan, to offer long-term peace of mind.

To identify these alarms, make sure that products have been tested and certified by an accredited third-party agency such as BSI or TÜV, and always purchase life safety products from reputable manufacturers at trusted merchants and retailers. 

A quality CO alarm will also offer stability against any environmental changes such as humidity and temperature fluctuations. As such, they are less likely to give false alarms, which over time, can become a nuisance to the occupant and risk being turned off or ignored, which can have fatal consequences. A sealed unit CO detector can provide extra peace of mind and safeguarding for long lasting protection as these are tamper proof.

In conclusion

The regulations are a welcome move in reducing the number of fatalities and health risks associated with carbon monoxide. As part of a wider safety package, the government has also updated legal obligations surrounding the correct installation and maintenance of smoke alarms. Landlords should familiarise themselves with the latest smoke and CO legislation in their region to ensure they are providing sufficient protection while also meeting the legal standards required.

Simon Jones is marketing manager at Kidde Safety Europe